Italo-disco is a genre of electronic dance music in The '80s mostly derived from Disco, Europop and Progressive music. It originated from Italy, hence the name. As its popularity reached parts of Europe, non-Italian artists produced their own similar-styled songs that may be labeled "Euro-disco" or even "Italo-disco".
Italo-disco descended from the sustained popularity of Disco in Europe after its presumed death in North America. Before that, many Europeans made songs featuring synthesizers in pop and dance styles, in part due to high song import and orchestra costs. Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone popularized the use of synthesizers in disco, and disco in Europe had quite greater synthesizer usage, including the "Space disco" style. Prominent Italian disco musicians that would influence Italo-disco include Celso Valli, Giancarlo Meo, Claudio Simonetti (who collaborated with Meo), Mauro Malavasi, Stefano Pulga, Pino D'Angiò, and the La Bionda brothers.
Definitions of Italo-disco vary over whether the genre began in the 1970s or as late as 1982. In the early 1980s, a sound that is now widely defined as Italo-disco developed, which was influenced by not only Italian music tastes but also by the UK music scene at the time. The breakthrough year of "Spaghetti Disco" was 1983, when many of the most acclaimed songs (commercially and/or receptively) came out. As the next years were the heydays of the biggest artists, there were also increased commercialization and production quality, in addition to Euro-disco production booming in nearby countries, mainly Germany. Some Italo-disco releases that made it to Latin America, eastern Europe, and the Pacific Asian nations became iconic hits in these places. The golden age of Italo-disco died down at the end of the 1980s when the Italo-dance, EuroBeat and Italo-house genres grew.
Italo-disco is different from disco music most people are familiar with. While it borrows elements from traditional disco, its use of synths is principal; Italo-disco does not feature the Philadelphia sound, one common difference being drum beats replaced by drum machines, especially after the early 1980s. Italo-disco is more catchy and melancholic, and it features arpeggios on occasion. The dominant language is English, and many artists used English-language stage names, with Spanish being the second most popular language due to Spain's status as a destination for fun and fiesta. A vast amount of Italo-disco songs are about love, and also substantially, the genre's songs sound like they're straight from science fiction due to the electro sounds predominantly found in the earlier songs and the "spacesynth" subgenre. Most singles from Italy have instrumental versions. The genre's sound can be confused as Synth-Pop to unfamiliar listeners.
Subgenres include the highly instrumental "spacesynth" and a dark wave one. In the late 1980s some songs have samba-like sounds and a faster tempo, signalling the transition to Eurobeat. (Japan received more exposure to Italo-disco in this time period in a prelude to the Eurobeat movement) The genre has regional differences within Europe. In contrast to Italian tracks, German tracks may be more melodic and contain Schlager elements; sometimes it's described as a style derived from the group Modern Talking. In Spain, their songs may have happier tones and higher pitch synths, and are also called the "Sabadell Sound". Italo-disco fans have disputed over the inclusion of non-Italian and post-1980s tracks under the Italo-disco name.
The genre never entered mainstream popularity in the Anglosphere due to possible backlash, the confusing and cheesy English lyrics, and the poor music export record of Italy and other nations, but a number of those that did get released there became big hits, such as Baltimora's "Tarzan Boy"note , Laura Branigan's "Self Control", and Taffy's "I Love My Radio". Chicago had abundant radio airplay and DJ shows with Italo-disco; the genre was one of the musical forces that helped spawn House Music in the Windy City and Techno in Detroit. Other releases entered club, party, or radio ranks, although in Southern California many songs were played faster at 45 rpm in conjunction with the Hi-NRG music scene, except in the following demographic. The genre comprised a substantial part of a music phenomenon called "Asian New Wave" in Asian communities in North America, particularly the Vietnamese. Italo-disco has similarities to freestyle, an electronic dance genre from the States. Some songs from North American artists such as Bobby Orlando, Gino Soccio, and Lime have been occasionally labeled as Italo-disco.
In the turn of the millennium, a reemergence of interest in Italo-disco began, partly due to mixes and other releases from the Dutch label Viewlexx and the online radio station Cybernetic Broadcasting System (succeeded by Intergalactic FM). The genre continues to enjoy renewed interest, among reasons thanks to American artists like Chromatics, Glass Candy and Johnny Jewel operating out of Washington state's Italians Do It Better label. There is a movement of new Italo-disco songs by old and new artists since the 2000s, although the genre remains in obscurity or nostalgia in Italy. A handful of original stars have also done concerts in various places such as eastern Europe and the Asian New Wave locales. Many original 80's songs are available on digital music stores, CD's and streaming services, and some rare releases are receiving vinyl represses by labels in Italy and abroad. Poland still enjoys Italo-disco after the 80s, resulting their own genre called Disco-polo. The soundtrack to the 2011 film Drive had an Italo-disco inspired soundtrack largely composed by Cliff Martinez. Some Vapor Wave and Future Funk songs sample Italo-disco songs (aided by the popularity of Italo-disco in Japan, to the point where Cover Versions of "Give Me Up" by Michael Fortunati are a J-Pop staple), not to mention Synthwave being partly inspired by Italo.
According to Google Trends, people looking up Italo-disco tend to come from eastern Europe and some Spanish-speaking countries, which also reflects the demographics of the commenters in Italo-disco YouTube videos. One book made note of Italo-disco's influence in Russian pop music.
The German label ZYX Music owns the rights to a high percentage of the Italo-disco releases from the 1980s, after it acquired the catalogs of prominent labels such as Discomagic, Time Records, Memory Records, Il Discotto, and Sensation Records. (Discomagic controlled Sensation Records and distributed Time Records releases) In Spain, most contemporary Italo-disco compilations are from Blanco y Negro Music.
Notable Italo/Euro-disco artists
- Babys Gang
- Bad Boys Blue
- The Creatures
- Cruisin Gang
- CC Catch
- Mauro Farina
- Fun Fun
- Den Harrow
- Tom Hooker
- Eddy Huntington
- Brian Ice
- Kirlian Camera
- Ken Laszlo
- Gary Low
- David Lyme
- Lee Marrow
- P. Lion
- Sandy Marton
- Jimmy Mc Foy
- Miko Mission
- Modern Talking
- My Mine
- Albert One
- Linda Jo Rizzo
- Ryan Paris
- Alexander Robotnick
- Patty Ryan
- Silent Circle
- The Twins
- Fred Ventura
- Vivien Vee
- Joe Yellow
Tropes present in Italo-disco
- Car Song: "Turbo Diesel" by Albert One.
- Cool Car: There's a vintage one in the cover of "Woman And Car" by Steve Doesn't Drive, and a futuristic one in the cover of "Jabdah" by Koto.
- Cool Train: A futuristic one in the cover of "Japanese War Game" by Koto.
- Cool Bike: A futuristic one in the cover of "Dragon's Legend" by Koto.
- Darker and Edgier: The dark wave subgenre of Italo, with artists like Kirlian Camera, plus the very emotional ones like Decadance's "On and On" and some others that the label Dark Entries repressed.
- Dead Horse Genre: Its popularity had waned by the start of The '90s due to Italo house, Eurobeat, and Italo-dance taking its place. As Italo-disco is considered by fans to be highly associated with the preceding decade, there are less than a handful songs in The Nineties that are widely known as examples of Italo-disco, notably the 1990 Susanne Meals song "Forever" (a cover of another Italo song by Bryan Rich). From the turn of the millenium onward the genre amassed a gradually expanding fanbase aside from established sizable ones in eastern Europe, Spain and Latin America.
- Documentary: Italo Disco Legacy (2017) is one of the most notable documentaries dedicated to the genre.
- Gratuitous English: A staple of the genre, to mixed results given where exactly Italo-disco came from.
- I Have Many Names: Common to artists. Mauro Farina, Gianni Coraini (Ken Laszlo), and Elena Ferretti had some aliases in the Italo-disco era before continuing the practice in The '90s.
- Instrumentals: The spacesynth subgenre (Koto, Cyber People and Laserdance for example), and the many instrumental versions to vocal songs are highlights.
- Memetic Mutation: Images and audio from the aforementioned "Tarzan Boy" song were used in the Gay Fuel YTMND fad.
- "Shadilay" by P.E.P.E., an Italian-sung single, was posted to 4chan in September 2016 and has since been adopted as an anthem by the Pepe/Kek and political alt-right movements. The single's disc label, which depicts◊ the Magic Sound frog holding a magician's wand, also gave rise to the phrase "meme magic" for meme-related examples of Life Imitates Art.
- "Wind of Change" by Fred Ventura is one of the songs for a dance in a video set in a Russian bunker. It was adapted to a Touhou fan animation, and listeners joked it's the song of choice in bunkers in the event of nuclear war.
- "Song for Denise" by Piano Fantasia was popularized in mid-2020 for being played in videos featuring stretched footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin walking.
- Punny Name: A couple of high-profiled stage names, which also count as Bilingual Bonus with the Italian language:
- Den Harrow is based on the word denaro, meaning money.
- Joe Yellow for gioiello (jewel).
- Albert One, the primary stage name of Alberto Carpani, is based on the name "Albertone" (big Albert), which happens to be the Italian name for Fat Albert.
- Sampling: Not widespread except for sampler instruments, but a well known example is Vincent Price's laugh from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" sampled in Koto's "Visitors".
- Spexico: Songs themed after Mexico may include cues of Spanish music.
- In a non-Mexican example, the My Mine hit "Hypnotic Tango" has castanets, which leans the song to Spanish flamenco rather than Argentine tango.
- Shout-Out: The cover for Max-Him "Lady Fantasy" pays homage to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA".
- Subliminal Seduction: There's a backmasked message in "Trotsky Burger" by Gazebo.
- Title-Only Chorus: Famously done in "Give Me Up" by Michael Fortunati.
- The Movie: Jocks/Music Fever (1984) can be considered the one for Italo. It stars the musicians-turned-actors Tom Hooker and Russell Russell as two men who open a disco club in Italy. The film features music from Kano, Band of Jocks, Bata Drum, Stephany Falasconi, Orlando Johnson & Trance, and most noteworthy, the Creatures and their sci-fi costumed stage members who perform in a lengthy montage near the movie's ending at their native L'Altro Mondo Studios club that conceived the movie.
- Unfortunate Names: The name of a rare highly-sought song by GANG is "KKK". The song has to do nothing with the Klan.